While it’s people that build championship-winning teams, the success or failure of an organization ultimately rests with one person: the team owner.
How an organization performs, how it overcomes adversity and how it establishes a long-term linage, not to mention assembling the right people in the right positions is a direct reflection of the guy who signs the checks.
That’s why individuals like Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs and others have thrived for so long. The man at the top of the heap fosters a winning attitude that is contagious within the organization.
There is no room for mediocrity or failure. As the late Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
And that’s particularly true in NASCAR, where second place is indeed the first loser, as Ricky Bobby wisely told us.
From the time he entered Sprint Cup competition as an owner in 2002 until the end of the 2008 season, Gene Haas achieved little success and significant failure in NASCAR.
In 284 starts over that period of time, what was then known as Haas CNC Racing failed to win even one race, managed just one top-5 and only 14 top-10 finishes.
To say Haas’ teams were not competitive is an understatement. They finished on the lead lap in just 79 of those 284 starts, roughly once every four races.
During that tenure, Haas employed a number of different drivers, including Ward Burton, Mike Bliss, Jeff Green, Johnny Sauter, Scott Riggs, Jack Sprague, John Andretti, the late Jason Leffler, Jeremy Mayfield, Max Papis, Tony Raines and Ken Schrader.
None brought success.
In fact, the best season finishes in Haas CNC history were back-to-back 28th place showings, by Bliss in 2005 and Green in 2006.
Lack of success was something Haas simply was not used to in his life. He became a very wealthy manufacturer of industrial equipment.
And when you’re used to success, you can tolerate failure for only so long before taking action.
Seven seasons was enough for Haas.
When he offered a 50 percent ownership equity stake to Tony Stewart to form a “new” team following the 2008 season, it was not an easy choice for Stewart to make.
Stewart had been with Joe Gibbs Racing since he first came to NASCAR in 1999, earning a pair of championships along the way in 2002 and again in 2005.
But when Gibbs switched from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2008, Stewart was not enamored after a nearly 15-year relationship with Chevrolet or General Motors.
When Haas told Stewart he would campaign Chevys and either buy or lease equipment from Hendrick Motorsports, the preeminent organization in NASCAR, Stewart learned one very important lesson:
Just how bound and determined Haas was to turn his organization into a winner.
Stewart took Haas up on his offer and three seasons later, Stewart and SHR were Sprint Cup champs in 2011.
Three years after that, Kevin Harvick would earn SHR its second championship in the last four seasons.
Since forming SHR with Stewart prior to the 2009 season, the organization as a whole has made 540 starts and come away with 25 race wins, 103 top-5 and 204 top-10 finishes.
Success has begotten success with Haas. He’s building a top-flight organization that will compete in Formula One beginning in 2016.
He’s given opportunities to succeed to Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. He’s stuck by Stewart through thick and thin, particularly in light of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy.
Haas turns 62 on Thursday. At a time when other owners might start thinking about retiring, he’s essentially just getting started.
He has now moved into the upper echelon of team owners in the sport, right up there with the Hendricks, Gibbs and Penskes.
Gone are the days of 28th-place season finishes.
Gone are the days of hoping to win a race, yet never taking that checkered flag.
Gone are the days where, frankly, Haas CNC Racing was little more than an afterthought in the world of Sprint Cup racing.
Now, it’s become one of the most successful and potent organizations in the sport.
Back in the early years of his NASCAR tenure, Haas would find himself somewhere near the back of the room during the annual awards banquet. After all, there was little to reward or award him for.
But now, if things continue going in the direction they have the last four seasons, much like he was during Friday’s awards banquet, Haas may indeed remain at the head table for a lot more years to come.
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